Inside the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Controversial New Album Cover

'It freaked me out at first,' cover artist says of divided online reactions

January 18, 2013 11:25 AM ET
Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Mosquito
Yeah Yeah Yeahs, 'Mosquito'
Beomsik Shimbe Shim

When the Yeah Yeah Yeahs revealed the cover art for their forthcoming album Mosquito (out April 16th) on Monday, the buzz was deafening. And not in a good way. "Yeah Yeah Yeahs Submit Early Frontrunner for Worst Cover Art of 2013," declared Popdust. The Guardian's summation of reactions from across the Web was equally blunt: "Yeah Yeah Yeahs fans say Mosquito album artwork sucks." Designed by South Korean–born animator Beomsik Shimbe Shim, the neon-hued cover depicts a screaming, spiky-haired baby in the clutches of a giant purple mosquito. Shimbe, as the Los Angeles-based artist likes to be known, tells Rolling Stone that while he "kind of hoped for a controversial response," he wasn't expecting such an intense outcry. "It freaked me out at first," he admits.

The animator cites an email he received from Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman Karen O yesterday in response to the cover ruckus: "We don't have fans because we do what they want us to do, we have fans because we do whatever we want and that's really what they want the most."

Shimbe was introduced to Karen O last fall by mutual friend Peter Chung, the creator of MTV's outré early-'90s sci-fi animated series Æon Flux. The singer, a fan of Shimbe's award-winning 2010 animated short film "The Wonder Hospital," early on expressed her desire for a "fucked-up image" for the new LP, he says. The band also wanted to use 3-D computer-generated imagery, apparently as part of a wider vision. "All elements are designed to be animated for upcoming videos" that are currently in preproduction, says Shimbe. The artist adds that he liked the idea of subverting the CG animation of Disney and other Hollywood studios by illustrating "different, dirty, uncomfortable ideas."

"Since Karen wanted the mosquito to be a sexy and beautifully gross female, I considered the mosquito as Karen O herself, the female warrior-like rock star," Shimbe says. "The boy could be anything out of your fears and nightmares."

He and Karen O discussed a wide range of influences for the cover, "from Alice in Wonderland's surreal landscapes to old Seventies and Eighties children's illustrators." Though the image of the naked child – Karen O's concept – evokes the baby on the cover of Nirvana's Nevermind, that wasn't necessarily the idea, Shimbe says. He does confirm fans' assumptions that the Garbage Pail Kids played a part in the cover aesthetic, but only in terms of the icky, green-goo-drenched font he designed for the cover type.

Mosquito, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' fourth album and their first since 2009, "is a feel good, food for the soul, chicken soup for the ears Yeah Yeah Yeahs record – which doesn't mean easy listening – it means kind of raw, kind of chaotic, kind of dreamy," Karen O said in a statement announcing the record's release. For now, Shimbe urges that fans keep an open mind about the album's controversial cover art. "After seeing all the images and videos come together with the music, it will make more sense and bring our ideas to life," he says. "People will be able to judge if this direction was bad or somehow strangely good, but not until then."

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